I am back at the rehab facility again for a second phase, which will consist of physical and occupational therapy. I even got the same nurse who cared for me during my initial stay. There is truly something to be said about how at times like this it is a gentle voice that is needed the most.MEENA_DHANJAL_OUTLAW_headshot5_300_375_c1-(1).jpg 

Since I no longer have the restrictions of the TSO jacket, we will work on getting me physically strong. The initial focus will be on the back muscles, making sure we strengthen them up for stability. The occupational therapy will help me learn how to master some of the basic things I need to do for myself, such as dressing.

Unfortunately, I just found out that my insurance company would cover only two weeks stay rather than the month we were hoping for. I am relieved to see that the therapists are confident, considering I still have so much to learn.

We also have a wheelchair evaluation scheduled.  I will get to select the chair I will be using permanently.  In the meantime, they are letting me borrow a nifty little chair until my own is ready.  I can already feel the difference in mobility just by rolling. Simply wheeling down the corridor is a little smoother, which in turn makes me want to go faster. I am surprised at how invigorating it feels.

According to the therapists, this chair is still not right for me. They have put foam on the footplate to push my legs up a little in order for the backside of my kneecaps to gain clearance. Everything is about pressure relief, and the correct extension of the way the body is positioned. Whatever the case, it certainly feels better than the clunky rental chair I have been using.

When I meet the representative from the mobility products company, we go through different types of manual wheelchairs; some are rigid, while others have folding frames, there are chairs that are made of stainless steel and titanium. He goes on to explain how my wheelchair will be custom made to fit me.

He stretches a tape measure across my lap from one wheel to the other, and then again from left side of the seat to the right. We also discuss different types of backs. I mention how I like the ones that have the really low backs, yet it is quickly established this isn’t correct for me at this time. My back needs a little more support since I am still in the healing stages of the back fusion surgery.  Although I am disappointed to hear this, it makes me more determined to get better soon.

I notice how all the wheelchairs have so much stuff on them, like handlebars on the back, and armrests that are removable. In addition, there are dual anti-tippers on the back of the chair towards the bottom. I definitely do not want all that, yet I do like the idea of the anti-tippers for extra stability. After all, I don’t ever want to fall again, even if it is from a wheelchair.

The most intriguing part of all is the types’ different specifications that are required to get me the wheelchair ideal for my body type. It is as if I am trying on a pair of new shoes for the first time. Does it fit right? Is it pinching anywhere? What about the parts of my body I cannot feel? What type of cushion is right for me to give my bottom the optimum relief of pressure?

I can already recognize the difference in chunkiness, and that one wheelchair may be heavier than the other. I know for sure I don’t want to break down in a wheelchair that weighs twenty-five pounds.

The vendor shows me a brochure of a titanium sport wheelchair. I already love the petite frame. He goes on to tell me it weighs between seventeen and nineteen pounds. It’s pretty obvious I have found the chair I want.

Last, but certainly not least, we discuss insurance coverage. They won’t cover the particular chair I like completely. It will cost several thousands of dollars, similar to paying for a used vehicle. State coverage occurs if I fall under a certain income bracket, however, I am over the income that would qualify me. Nevertheless, I request it anyway, as it is very important for me to make my life as easy as possible.

When I am not in therapy, I spend my time in the library. I specifically go there to use the computer so I can check e-mails from everyone, especially my husband. It’s nice to be able to share the real thoughts that are going through my mind. I have so much to learn, from the simplest of things in life to the hardest.

I have purposely left the five-pound bag that my occupational therapist gave me yesterday upstairs in my room. This was supposed to be my baby. However, I knew the moment she gave it to me that it was not realistic to wheel with both hands and have a small newborn on my lap. It almost seems comical, but I am not at that point where I can laugh about such things. I understand more than ever this is something I am going to have to figure out myself upon returning home.

I have a couple more days left before I go home. I am pleasantly surprised by a visit from a woman that has been selected to be my “facility peer”. She introduces herself as my mentor, and explains that she will be speaking to me often from this point forward to help with the transition of living with a spinal cord injury.

She has the same level of injury as I do, and I can’t help but eye her keenly as she speaks. She is in a sleek manual wheelchair wearing a black turtleneck sweater and black pants. Her blond hair cascades down beyond her shoulder and she wears a warm smile that is full of understanding.  She tells me how she is married, works full time, and drives a sedan. I begin to see a glimmer of what my future may look like. I am amazed, and feel like whatever I am facing ahead isn’t as bleak now.

I also receive suggestions on adaptive clothing from my occupational therapist. I find it interesting that there are clothes made specifically for men and women in wheelchairs. It also makes me wonder if that is something I can learn to do, considering I like to sew. After talking to the therapist, I am able to practice with their sewing machine, and quickly realize I can use the foot pedal with my hand while holding the fabric with the other.

It is the small things that are introduced to me that make it so clear that I can do things for myself again. It is just as obvious that I have to tweak the way in which I do things because I am unable to use my feet anymore.

It is also still clear to me that my mind is not yet matched up with my new body. I often find myself sitting and instinctively waiting for my feet to move. I know one day I will laugh at this too.

Throughout this stay, I suddenly feel so confident and sure that I will be able to handle things when I return home. I want so badly to be that hands on mother, wife, homemaker and employee again. In fact, more than anything I need to know that the only thing this injury has taken from me is the use of my legs.

I felt so self-conscious when I returned home before I came here for this phase of therapy, yet here I don’t feel anything but myself.

The "new me" seems blank right now. I don’t know what I can accomplish, but I am willing to try. So, I decide that the first thing I will do when I get home is shop for a new pair of black pants and black turtleneck.

Meena Dhanjal Outlaw, Guest Blogger


Meena Dhanjal Outlaw, Guest Blogger